Directed by Paul King
Written by Paul King
Based on Michael Bond’s “Paddington Bear.”
Ben Whishaw – voice of Paddington
Imelda Staunton – voice of Aunt Lucy
Michael Gambon – voice of Uncle Pastuzo
Hugh Bonneville – Mr Brown
Sally Hawkins – Mrs Brown
Madeleine Harris- Judy Brown
Samuel Joslin- Jonathan Brown
Nicole Kidman – Millicent (the baddie)
Julie Walters – Mrs Bird
Matt Lucas – taxi driver
Jim Broadbent – Mr Gruber
Peter Capaldi – Mr Curry, the nosey neighbour
Tim Downie – Montgomery Clyde, the explorer
Matt King – the pickpocket
Geoffrey Palmer- head of Geographical Society
I have a general problem with the ultra twee English children’s classics. I loathe Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit series; I can’t stand Winnie The Pooh; Paddington is not a lot better. We are avid collectors of children’s books and avid readers aloud of children’s books, but we never read this stuff to our kids. Our second date was watching the Royal Ballet’s “Tales of Beatrix Potter” and I must have been extremely keen to sit through such dire twaddle. Karen’s excuse was that she was studying dance at the time. A friend used to give her kids Peter Rabbit … or rather “Peter Bunny” crockery for birthdays and Christmas, which was promptly placed in a cabinet. The face of a ten year old presented with a Peter Bunny egg cup for Christmas must be sad to behold. I’m reminded that a “bunny” was the maternity hospital’s euphemistic name for a large sanitary towel. I deeply loathe this sort of English kids’ stuff, and Paddington Bear, though later, receives the same opprobrium.
Then add that I can’t stand animated animals set into normal film. I accepted it in Song of The South (1946), Darby O’Gill & The Little People (1959), but I deeply loathe Cats & Dogs, Furry Vengeance and the ilk.
So here we have a computer animated bear, based on Michael Bond’s Paddington series, in real life settings … and the result is fabulous. Talking SFX animals come of age. At last. The Paddington series may be twee in print … and I think it is … but this takes so many liberties that this is a great children’s film.
It’s a visual delight, from the opening B&W Peru sequences, to the dolls’ house that becomes a cutaway of the full size Brown’s house and we then move round like a dolls house. The trompe l’oeil tree on their staircase gains and loses leaves, a railway train in the antique dealer’s memory comes to life from a toy. Paddington seeks addresses which appear scribbled over a London Thames skyline. London – Westbourne Grove, Portobello Road, the South Bank – has never looked better.
The cameos flash by – take the Geographical Society flashback in B&W with the great Geoffrey Palmer giving us less than a minute. We have the cream of the British acting profession participating, which is true of the whole film actually.
Paddington & Mr Brown at The Geographical Society
Very briefly – the film starts with old B&W footage of Montgomery Clyde, an explorer in Peru. Instead of collecting specimens, he befriends a family of bears and apparently teaches them both English and a love of marmalade. Move into colour for “now” and the bears, aunt, uncle and Paddington live an idyllic life, dreaming of England. An earthquake destroys their world, uncle dies and auntie sends Paddington off to England. Incidentally, there is a mild and subtle subplot on hopeful immigrants and how warmly Paddington expects to be received throughout. It’s salutary on welcoming those who really want to live beside you. In England he meets The Brown family. Dad is a glorious performance by Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville and mum is Sally Hawkins, see Made in Dagenham. You accept the age gap because both are so brilliant, and I do apologize for that kneejerk “Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville …” which will follow him for life, just as announcements of Joan Collins’ recent damehood always started Dynasty’s Joan Collins …. Mr Brown is totally against having Paddington live with him, Mrs Brown wants to help him. I identified – the division is exactly how Karen and I would have reacted. Mr Brown’s conversion to love of Paddington is the major theme. One of the great episodes in the story is Mr Brown and Paddington trying to research the explorer at the Geographical Society. Hugh Bonneville has to dress up as a female cleaner.
The Brown Family: Samuel Joslin, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Madeleine Harris
Enter the villain, Millicent (Nicole Kidman), who works at the Natural History Museum. She is a keen taxidermist, and wants to catch and stuff Paddington. We later find her motivation is that the Peru explorer was her dad, who was ostracized for failing to bring home specimens. One is slightly surprised that the Natural History Museum was willing to associate itself with villainous taxidermy but they did. The building is the greatest Victorian Gothic creation of all, and features heavily in the finale.
Millicent (Nicole Kidman)
There are wonderful minor roles. Julie Waters is Mrs Bird, the Browns ageing live-in “relative.” Peter Capaldi is Mr Curry, the neighbour lured into helping Millicent catch Paddington. Jim Broadbent is Mr Gruber, the antique dealer and hat expert.
There are enough belching / toilet / gross out jokes to keep any child happy. The scene where Paddington assumes toothbrushes are for removing ear wax leads inevitably to Mr Brown brushing his teeth with a puzzled look the next morning.
Paddington on the escalator- no plot spoiler. It’s in the trailer.
The use of ‘found’ music in very short pieces throughout is masterly (Born To Be Wild, Hello, I Feel Good), and a welcome running theme is the group busking calypso material, which is D Lime. The Caribbean music is a reference for the Westbourne Grove / Notting Hill setting of the story. Writer / Director Paul King has said it picks up the immigrant theme of ‘an outsider trying to find a home’ with the calypso band. ‘London Is The Place for Me’ over the credits was a song by calypso singer Lord Kitchener who arrived in London in 1948 on the first Caribbean immigrant ship. King had heard D Lime on a compilation and tracked them down to feature in the film.
How did the kids take it? Full cinema, lots of laughter. Our nine year old gave it 8.5 out of ten (I’m training him up as a film critic). The just under four year old sat through in rapt attention, but it certainly did not hold her at Frozen / Tangled levels. The lack of a princess might be her problem, and she decided that after Paddington, her favourite character was the perpetually-embarrassed daughter, Judy (who is her older sister’s age). I think it was a little too old for her, perfect for the nine year old, and in true pantomime tradition, the adults got a lot of laughs too in the script and references. Our taxidermist villain (Nicole Kidman is fantastic) strings the taxi driver (Matt Lucas) up by his feet to extract The Browns’ address from him, somewhere on the Embankment in Southwark. She is about to depart for Westbourne Grove, leaving him trussed up, but in perfect London cabbie style he calls after her, ‘I’d take the Westway, then …” Then there’s Paddington not knowing how to use an escalator on the tube. He sees the “Dogs must be carried” sign so goes off to find a dog. There’s enough of that to keep adults happy. The wild action Paddington sequences are so good that the little ones find it worth waiting through the adult-directed talking bits. I loved it.
My rating: Buy the blu-ray on release without waiting for bargain offers.